Innovative study paves the way for new treatment options for sleep apnoea after spinal injury

New research published today in The Journal of Physiology suggests why people with paralysis of their limbs and upper torso are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea.

Researchers at NeuRA led by Principal Research Scientist Professor Danny Eckert in collaboration with scientists in Melbourne have identified a potential new cause of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in people with spinal cord injury.

More than 60 per cent of people with tetraplegia, a type of spinal injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of torso and limbs, have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This new research has identified changes in protective reflexes in the throat in people with tetraplegia. The findings also provide new insight into how protective upper airway reflexes work more broadly.

This new research funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia paves the way for future physiological sleep reflex studies looking to develop effective and tolerable treatment options for people with tetraplegia and sleep apnoea.

“By identifying a potential cause of obstructive sleep apnoea in these people we are one step closer to developing targeted therapy,” says Prof Eckert.

Over 150 research staff across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK worked together on the Sleep Health in Quadriplegia research programme to understand the causes, treatments and impact of sleep-disordered breathing in people living with tetraplegia.

“We did these studies during the day while participants were awake. Our future research will investigate whether these results can be repeated in people with tetraplegia and sleep apnoea during sleep,” says Prof Eckert.

Read the full paper in The Journal of PhysiologyGenioglossus reflex responses to negative upper airway pressure are altered in people with tetraplegia and obstructive sleep apnoea

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